A Little Bit About Gardening

Fall Color


St. Croix River, looking over to the Wisconsin side.

Fall is the time of year when things wind down, the days get shorter, and we all start to feel a bit more cozy.  The sweaters come out, the hot drinks are served, and we spend time around the fire.  At this point, we harvest, enjoying our last goods from the summer.  The cold nights have nipped a few summer plants, and the mums and asters are all in their glory.

white aster and cone flower gone to seed

white aster and cone flower gone to seed

While I wait for the first frost, I gather seeds from my favorite plants of the past summer: marigolds, cosmos, cone flower, nasturtium, zinnia, and cleome.  Many of my plants I know will reseed on their own: bachelor button, alyssum, cone flower, cleome, aster, goldenrod, showy milkweed, rudbeckia, and love in mist.  I leave my garden a bit messy so I can enjoy watching the finches feed on the seed.  It’s a waiting time from Harvest to the first frost.  Annuals are still thriving, although leggy.  Kale and chard enjoy the cool season.  Squash are plump, yet their foliage is white with mildew.  It’s all bittersweet.


I always take a few clippings during this time too.  Many plants can be “cloned” from their parent.  Rooting stems of rosemary, fuschia, pineapple sage, begonia, and coleus in water can ensure a plant or two for next summer season.


Mallards and asters

Enjoy the fall outdoors, the purple and white of wild asters, the last ducks on the pond, the cool nights.  After the first frost, there’s lots to do to close the garden down, so take time now to rest up for the task.

There is a beautiful spirit breathing now
Its mellowed richness on the clustered trees,
And, from a beaker full of richest dyes,
Pouring new glory on the autumn woods,
And dipping in warm light the pillared clouds.
Morn on the mountain, like a summer bird,
Lifts up her purple wing, and in the vales
The gentle wind, a sweet and passionate wooer,
Kisses the blushing leaf, and stirs up life
Within the solemn woods of ash deep-crimsoned,
And silver beech, and maple yellow-leaved,
Where Autumn, like a faint old man, sits down
By the wayside a-weary.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



Our own little weary man, Che, who isn’t much a fan of the colder weather.

Moonflower, a Beautiful Vine


This is my first heirloom Moonflower!  I planted these seeds late in the season, mid-summer (the instructions were to sow as soon as the ground had warmed to 50 degrees); therefore, my late sowing begot late blooms.  The flowers are about 5-6 inches across and fragrant.  My understanding is that they bloom at night or on overcast days.  Living in the city, I think these guys are just blooming when they can.


Moonflower will need something sturdy to climb, like a fence or trellis.  They like full sun and moist soil.  The seeds are poisonous, so take that into consideration before planting (especially if you have children or pets).  They will readily reseed, which I’m looking forward to.  This will be a staple in my garden from here on out.


I planted this plant with hyacinth bean vine, a nice combination.  Both seeds are available at Botanical Interests.

Butterfly Garden

Yellow Swallowtail on Nasturtium

Yellow Swallowtail on Nasturtium

Nothing is better than sitting out in the garden with your coffee in the morning and watching a butterfly float by.  It just seems magical.  I’ve had red admirals, monarchs, swallowtails,  and even a mourning cloak visit throughout this season.  The key is to provide plants with nectar they love.

Monarch on Zinnia

Monarch on Zinnia

Key Plants for a Butterfly Garden

  • Zinnia
  • Cone flower
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Hibiscus
  • Lavender
  • Marigold
  • Rosemary
  • Verbena
  • Milkweed
  • Nasturtium
  • Rudbeckia
Female Black and Blue Swallowtail visiting Zinnias

Black and Blue Swallowtail visiting Zinnias

I’ve not been lucky enough to see them in caterpillar form.  From what I’ve read, most seem to lay eggs in early spring and hatch in the beginning of summer.  I do provide Milkweed for the ever dwindling population of Monarchs.  I’ve also plant parsley, dill, and carrot to host Swallowtail caterpillars.

Question Mark on Red Coneflower

Question Mark on Red Coneflower

I’m new to the Butterfly world, but I’ve read that the Question Mark feeds on rotting fruit, which luckily, I have in the form of Mulberries.  A tree has sprouted between me and my neighbor’s fence.  The birds love to get drunk off the over ripe fruit, apparently the Question Mark likes it too.

The Friendly Red Admiral

The Friendly Red Admiral

One of my favorite butterflies this season was the Red Admiral.  They like to perch on people.  To my surprise one morning, one of these guys just sat on the leg of my shorts as I watered.  Way to make me feel I’m a good gardener, Mr/Mrs. Admiral.

Keep a variety of blooming flowers throughout the entire summer,  and you’ll be sure to have visitors flipping and floating in.


Garden and Color


When we look at a garden, we are attracted to color.  It’s very much like painting or music.  The layers and tones induce a feeling and make the work of art.  Echinacea in reds and pinks mix nicely with black eyed susans, a very cheerful spot.


Rudbeckia and Cleome, both tall and stunning, create a bold look.  This year, I had a few surprise rudbeckia pop up.  In my garden, I tend to leave seed heads for the birds to eat throughout the winter.  This lends itself to some surprises the next year, but welcome surprises.

Adding a bench to this spot allows to viewer to watch the flowers dance in the breeze.

I always admire wistful gardens.  Adding a bench to this spot allows to viewer to watch the flowers dance in the breeze. At the Chicago Botanic Gardens, they’ve welcomed the airy quality of dreamy summer days with with tall purple verbena and white cosmos.

Here the purple lilies and the pink, fill the air with grace.

Even in a pond, the lilies chosen can be many varieties of color, from yellows to pinks to purples. Here the purple lilies and the pink water iris, fill the air with grace.

When you enter a garden, take notice of the colors and the feelings you have as you wonder through.

Red is confident, bold, and passionate.

Pink is a symbol of love and beauty.

Orange is warmth, strength, and enthusiasm.

Yellow is cheer and optimism.

Greens are fertile, brighter and darker variations are always eye catching in a shady spot.

Blue is loyal and peaceful.

Purple is majestic, mysterious, and imaginative.

White is pure and light.  Often night blooming flowers, like moon flower, are white and fragrant in the evening to attract moths.

Take a look at your space.  Keep a journal on the color combos you find most appealing.  As the years continue, you find your garden is often an extension of yourself.

Roses in a haze


View as you enter the Rose Garden

This past week has been a foggy one here in Chicago, and what could be more enchanting than foggy days? Foggy days in the blooming rose garden at Chicago Botanic Gardens!


Roses with rain droplets


red rose between storms

The day started out hot, but as the rain rolled in, up came the fog.  Being so close to Lake Michigan probably helped too.  It made for a very romantic rose garden experience.


With the rain, there were few visitors.  It felt like a private garden.

Refreshing Water

spawaterI happen to notice that the neighbor’s peppermint was making it’s way into my yard.  I don’t mind too much, but I do want to keep it under control.  When it is in my grass, I pull.

Not wanting  to waste the mint (I just love the smell and taste too much),  I looked up this refreshing “spa” water recipe.  I know, sounds weird; but it is very easy, cooling, and quite delicious.


4 springs mint

2 springs rosemary

12 cucumber slices

4 lemon slices


Let sit for 2-8hrs, then enjoy!

Sunshine Community Garden, Austin, TX

pricklypearWhile in Austin, TX, this past week, I stumbled upon the largest community garden I’ve seen in an urban locale.  WOW, Texas size.  Sunshine Community Gardens  is located between Lamar and Burnet just south of 49th St.  As I walked through, I was amazed to see artichoke in bloom.  This is one vegetable that I’ve tried and failed at in Chicago.  The season is just not long enough.

sunshine2Poppies, sunflowers, prickly pear, echincaea, and zinnia were just loving the heat.  Like Illinois, Texas does have a season that is just too harsh, it’s mid-summer.  Everything was at it’s peak during my visit.


One thing that just gets me whenever I’m in Austin is the Rosemary, it’s basically a small bush!

rosemaryI was happy to chat with one gardener, Ila (also the garden’s President), who was nice enough to share some of her sungold tomatoes with me.  A variety of cherry that I grow here in Chicago, super sweet!  sunshine4If you walk to the back of the garden, you’ll run into the chicken coop, a nice shady spot for the ladies.

sunshine3Next time you are in Austin, take a look at Sunshine.  You’ll be amazed at the bountiful plots and happy gardeners.

Spring is here!

purplecrocusIt’s here, I know it.  The crocus are blooming, we’re seeing insects, and the temperatures are finally cooperating!  It’s time to make the garden Spring Clean up list.  Don’t try to do everything at once.  Take your time  and enjoy the sun!



Spring Clean Up To Do:

  • Pick up trash and rearrange any hard scape (bricks, birdbath, rocks,etc)  that got pushed around in winter.
  • Cut back perennials and ornamental grasses.
  • Turn compost and add a little to your beds.
  • Rake up any spots of dead grass and add seed (you’ll have to keep a good watering schedule once you seed your lawn).
  • Wait on mulching, let the soil heat up some, then mulch.
  • Start clippings from house plants like spider plant or Swedish ivy as an inexpensive way to fill in shady spots in the garden.
Coleus sprouting roots in water.

Coleus sprouting roots in water.

Just this little bit of work will get you in the mood for Spring.

March Gardening

daffodilsMost of the time in Chicago, March isn’t so bad.  It’s in the 50s often and the snow is gone.  This year, we’re getting there, slowly.  Your best bet for gardening delights is to start your seedlings.  Tomatoes, peppers, annuals, and herbs all can benefit from a head start indoors 6-8 weeks before the warmth of Mother’s Day, May 10th.


  • Seeds (look for heirloom, organic seeds from Botanical Interests, Baker’s Creek, or Seed Savers)
  • Shop light (about $50)
  • Trays with clear plastic covers, to create a greenhouse effect (this can be purchased or made with a variety of left over food containers)
  • Organic seed starter mix (there is a difference from regular potting soil)
  • Warmth (I start my seeds on magazines on top of a radiator, but a heating pad on low will work nicely too.)


Seeds germinate at different rates.  Older seeds may also have less viability.  Check out this handy herb guide and this one for most vegetables.  Once seedlings have a second set of leaves, they can be transplanted into a mixture of potting soil and compost.  Here, they’ll grow until being transplanted outside.  Remember to keep the shop light a good 6 inches from the top of the plants, and to keep the lights on for 14-16 hours of the day.  Good luck and happy gardening.

Puerto Rico, Tropical and Beautiful


oldsanjuanThe beginning of February, we took a trip to Puerto Rico.  I had never been, and actually had never really thought much about it.  I knew that there was an old walled city, Old San Juan, and a dock for cruise ships.  Little did I realize what a gem this United States Territory is.  casablancagardenOne of the fountains at the gardens of Ponce de Leon’s home, Casa Blanca.   The gardens are sunken, with the house rising around them.  luquillobeachWe moved on to Luquillo towards the East end of the island.  The beaches were orange, to my surprise.  The waters in Luquillo varied from beach to beach.  In a 45min walk along the first three heading east, I observed high waves for surfing, calmer waters for swimming, and a natural coral reef!  I am a firm believer in the salt air and humidity for a healthy life.  Puerto Rico has it!window

We could see coconut and breadfruit trees from our windows, as well as hear the ocean.  At night, coqui frogs sing, and it’s amazing.

elyunqueviewEl Yunque, the rainforest, is right there.  I mere 10 minute drive from Luquillo.

peteelyunque elyunque petewaterfall treepalmsWaterfalls, cascading pools, lush green, and tree ferns!  It’s like being in the Fern Room at Garfield Park Conservatory, but real and everywhere!  Puerto Rico has so much to offer.  We’re already planning a trip back to see the islands of Culebra and Vieques, as well as the bio-luminous bays.